Monday, March 29, 2010

When asking for book recommendations of beloved classics, one that frequently is mentioned, in gushing terms, is I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith. I've never heard anyone who's read the book respond with anything less than animated enthusiasm when talking about the book. Somehow, I never got around to reading it, but I was excited to see that a film had recently been made from the book, starring the always quirky Bill Nighy, so I couldn't wait to watch it.

Somehow, in among all the accolades, I'd never actually gotten any idea about the plot of the book. It centers around the Mortmain family, who move into a damp, crumbling castle. Their father, who had published a successful novel a few years previously, had seen the castle from the road and decided to move his family there, no matter what the cost or consequences. We see the excited family rushing in to their own private fairytale castle.

Suddenly, the next thing we know, 10 or so years have passed, and the family's fortunes are decidedly worse. Father has been unable to repeat the success of his first novel, or indeed to even write anything at all. Mother is suddenly and inexplicably gone and replaced by a wacky stepmother named Topaz. The girls, Rose and Cassandra (who is telling the story through her journal entries), are socially isolated. There is no money to pay the rent on the castle or even to buy food.

Word reaches the family that the old landlord, who was not anxious to enforce the rent collection, has died and the new landlords are requesting payment of back rent. Of course, this throws the entire family into a panic. The two daughters are soon delighted to discover that the new owner is a young American man, Simon Cotton, who is currently visiting the main estate house with his younger brother Neil. Rose immediately decides that she will get Simon Cotton to marry her, so that she can save her family from being thrown out onto the streets.

Here is where the story gets odd. Rose and her family are all decidedly quirky. Not just poverty stricken and socially inept, but also wildly out of touch when it comes to things like appropriate attire. The Cotton family, by contrast, appears to be insanely wealthy and caught up in society affairs.

Naturally, though, after only a few meetings, Rose's plan works and she becomes engaged to Neil Cotton. She is immediately whisked away to London to start getting ready for the wedding. Cassandra becomes worried that Rose is sacrificing her own happiness in order to save the family, but when Cassandra comes to London to visit her, Rose assures her that she does love Neil. This presents something of a problem, as Cassandra is also in love with Neil.

That's the story. There are a few events at the end, but basically, the story just sort of fizzles out. I was left puzzled as to why everyone is so enthralled with the book. It might be a wonderful story, but it didn't translate very well to the screen. The characters were not sympathetic, and their actions didn't ring true. Why on earth would Neil Cotton suddenly propose to that odd girl with the weird family? Why was the "artsy crowd" so enthralled with the bizarre step-mother Topaz? Whatever happened to the mother? It just didn't make a whole lot of sense.

Final verdict for I Capture the Castle: Two gherkins, for some lovely scenery of an old castle, but not much believable plot


Andrea said...

Sorry to hear this book didn't really appeal. I read it some years ago when a film adaptation was due for release, and I found it quite magical. It really did manage to transport me back to a forgottern era.

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I'm a librarian who is interested in all things British. I try to visit London as often as possible, and am always planning my next trip. I lived in Sweden for a few years with my Swedish husband, so the occasional Swedish reference may occur . . .

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